(Fox News)

The dirty secret of conservative journalism is that little of it constitutes journalism

Breitbart has always had a tenuous relationship with the truth. How fitting that its mendacity will be its undoing


Eric Boehlert
March 17, 2016 12:45PM (UTC)
This article originally appeared on Media Matters.

Two data points from early in the week: President Obama currently enjoys some of the highest approval ratings of his second term, while the conservative media shit show surrounding Donald Trump descends into a Hunger Games-like round of final elimination.

And yes, there's something deeply poetic about that contrast.

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It's ironic because when Obama was first elected, the conservative media, including key outposts such as Breitbart, hoped they were going to check his every move. They were going to break his presidency. Instead, the only thing broken these days is the spirit of most of the conservative press as Trump stands poised to run away with the Republican nomination and conservative commentators form a circular firing squad lamenting the party's future, as well as Trump's potential November loss.

The recent breakdown at Breitbart News is just the latest dumpster fire drawing attention. The site continues to implode in public view after feverishly pro-Trump editors failed to adequately defend reporter Michelle Fields when she was reportedly grabbed by Trump's campaign manager while trying to pose a question to the candidate.

It represents the latest skirmish in the unfolding civil war. In January, National Review declared war on Trump. Later that month he once again opened fire on Fox News. And now Breitbart staffers are jumping ship because the site's so clearly inside Trump's pocket. ("Trump lackeys," according to National Review.)

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Trump's the wrecking ball candidate. But so far, it looks like the only damage he's doing is to the GOP and the conservative press.

Lots of conservative media jaws remain dropped on the floor as their loyal readers, listeners, and viewers embrace Trump as their triumphant hero. Lots of conservative voices are belatedly chasing after the bandwagon urging voters to jump off. But it's too late. The right-wing media built this Frankenstein monster and now it's marauding around the countryside with a massive, GOP pitchfork crowd following in its wake, eager and willing to ransack whatever stands in its way.

Is brainwashed too harsh of a term for what has happened to hardcore conservative voters in recent years, thanks in part to the far-right press?

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There's little doubt that Trump, a bullying bigoted nativist, has emerged as the mirror image of the Obama-hating far-right press. He's clearly won over the demagoguery wing of the Republican Party, which for years obsessed over every Fox News Benghazi report, cheered every Rush Limbaugh I.R.S. condemnation, and watched Trump's birther campaign with great fascination.

What's inescapable today about the mounting Trump carnage is that it's all self-inflicted. Trump's flourishing on the fertile playing field of bigotry and resentment that the conservative media helped cultivate for years. Anti-intellectualism became a hallmark of the conservative press under Obama. Today, that's what is powering Trump's run.

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Look no further than Breitbart. This is from an item I wrote in 2010, cataloging the site's already-rich history of getting everything wrong:

This, from the site that can't read WH visitor's logs, doesn't understand pop culture, can't read polling data, doesn't know what a hate crime is, is clueless about the law, openly mocks Christmas, has trouble reading English, and launched one of the most incompetent smear campaigns in internet history.

And yet appearing on Fox News recently, Breitbart's former publicist Kurt Bardella, who resigned in protest last week, attributed Trump's rise to the fact that "facts no longer have their place in the political conversation and discourse in this country." Trust me, conservative sites like Breitbart have been dismantling "facts" for many, many years.

"All movements are vulnerable to populist excesses and the self-destructive impulses of their core supporters," wrote Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic, as he castigated the conservative press for Trump's rise. "Good leaders can help to mitigate those pathologies. Bad leaders magnify them."

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Leaders of the Republican Party chose to magnify them, as they deputized the right-wing media in their pursuit of Obama. The move represented a complete abdication of leadership. But after the Obama landslide in 2008, the strategy was easy, it was cheap and it produced short-term excitement, bordering on hysteria, within a conservative movement.

So off came all the mechanical governors and the right-wing media engine was revved for seven years. Obviously, we're now watching the colossal -- and predictable -- malfunction.

The dirty little media secret about "conservative journalism" is that today, very little of it constitutes journalism. Not even close. (It more often resembles opposition research designed to trip up Democrats and little else.) And on the extreme boundaries, you have supposed news outlets like Breitbart acting like a "de facto super PAC" for the Trump campaign.

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There simply is no mirror relationship on the left. The Nation, for instance, doesn't relentlessly publish fabrications in the name of trying to damage the GOP. Mother Jones doesn't launch ridiculous smear campaigns against Republicans in hopes of boosting the chances of the Democratic Party. There is no liberal version of Breitbart, or The Drudge Report, or Fox News.

That's because those conservative entities don't operate -- they're not weighed down -- by guidelines of fair play. Instead, it's anything goes. And when the target was Obama (i.e. he's a traitor who sides with terrorists), the cheers were deafening on the far end of the political spectrum.

For many, those cheers have been replaced by groans while Trump stands poised to pad his primary lead. As the staff defections pile up, it's not known if Breitbart can survive the unfolding civil war.

The same goes for the Republican Party.

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Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

MORE FROM Eric Boehlert


Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Barack Obama Breitbart Kurt Bardella Media Matters Michelle Fields

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